The Grapevine

Bubonic Plague Outbreak 2019: Should You Be Worried?

The world was surprised by recent reports of people diagnosed with bubonic plague in China. The new cases sparked concerns that the Black Death may soon return and be as harmful as it was in the 14th century when it wiped out half of Europe’s population. 

Local media reported on Saturday a hunter in China contracted bubonic plague after eating a wild rabbit. Health authorities placed nearly 30 people in quarantine due to alleged contact with the patient.

In the past week, two other people were diagnosed with plague in the country’s capital Beijing. They appeared with pneumonic plague, which is known for triggering the Black Death in Europe.

The bubonic plague mainly affects the lymphatic system. It spreads through exposure to bacteria called Yersinia pestis, normally found in fleas or animals, like rodents, squirrels and hares.

Common symptoms of plague include open sores, bleeding, vomiting, fever and organ failure. If left untreated, the infection may affect the bloodstream, cause sepsis or damage the lungs, leading to pneumonic plague.

Will Plague Reach The US?

With the recent reports of plague in China, many people fear that the infection would spread to other countries. But experts said the plague has been affecting thousands of people in different countries every year but there is a low risk of another pandemic. 

Every year, countries like India, Peru and parts of Africa report new cases of infection. In the U.S., health officials record an average of seven plague cases a year.

Wild rodents carrying the plague-causing bacteria are commonly found in Southwestern states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. 

“There is transmission of plague among wild rodents only in certain areas of the U.S.,”  Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told Healthline. “These areas are generally very sparsely populated so there is not much opportunity for humans to come into contact with fleas or animals carrying the plague.” 

Another reason that plague may not spread like it did in Europe is today’s easy access to treatments. The plague is now curable with antibiotics.

“Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted,” Kappagoda added. “We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics.”

Plague The bubonic plague mainly affects the lymphatic system and spreads through exposure to bacteria called Yersinia pestis. Pixabay